Cycling Taiwan's East Rift Valley (花東縱谷)

Taiwan's East Rift Valley (花東縱谷) stretches from Taidong all the way up to Hualien. After spending a weekend in Taitung with Queenie and some other friends, I decided to cycle through the rift valley all the way up to Hualien. It was an awesome experience and the one thing I will always remember is the tremendous sky above the valley in the late evening of the first day. It was a great 180km ride and a worthwhile experience. It is also an alternate route from Taitung to Hualien on any circumnavigation of Taiwan.

Sunset Over Chihshang (池上)
Sunset Over Chihshang (池上)

The Route

For me it was a two day trip mostly because I left Taidong on the first day at 2:30pm as Queenie and some friends had come to Taidong for the weekend and were due to catch the 3:00pm train back. The first day saw me ride 60km to a town called Chih Shang (池上) and the second day saw me ride about 120km from Chih Shang (池上) to Hualien. I think the whole valley can be ridden in a single day if you set out early enough.

Day 1: Taitung to Chih Shang

Day 2: Chih Shang to Hualien.

From Taidong to Chih Shang (池上)

I left late on Sunday afternoon (around 2:30pm) from Taidong. It was a late start because I had spent the weekend in Taidong with Queenie and some friends and they were booked to leave on the 2:50pm train to Taipei. I got my gear and got ready to ride. Leaving Taidong I noticed the big clouds in the sky that were being pushed into Taiwan from Typhoon Saola that was blowing in from the Philippines. That gave me a lot of motivation to ride hard during the first few hours and get a few kilometers under my wheels.

Threatening Sky over Taidong
Big Clouds over Taidong

Finding the right road is relatively easy. I was looking for Road 9 and there are a lot of signs indicating the direction of the East Rift Valley Scenic area so it was pretty easy to navigate out of Taidong. As you start to leave Taidong and get to the start of the East Rift Valley Scenic Area there is a beautiful tree covered section of the road that leads out onto the section of Road 9 that eventually heads into the East Rift Valley.

Beautiful Road out of Taidong
Tree Lined Road in Taidong

Shortly after passing the tree lined section of Road 9 there is a sign that welcomes you to the East Rift Valley Scenic Area. There is a lot of irony about the sign as it is located at one of the busiest parts of the road with lots of trucks, buses, cars and scooters screaming around you. However, it is the beginning of the road. You can see one truck in the background in the picture below. It was a fairly surreal experience but I was soon on my way again.

Beginning on the East Rift Valley
Beginning of the East Rift Valley

Once I was on the road to Luye the traffic died down somewhat and as I went further along the road it thinned out significantly more. The great part was that as I rode further along the road, the buildings and settlements thinned out significantly and opened up to a beautiful tree lined road and also some farms. Although it was a late Sunday afternoon, farmers were busy in their fields. Wherever you go in Taiwan, these small farms add to scenery along the road and make cycling in the countryside a true pleasure.

Farmers in the Field
Farmers in the Field

As I approached Luye and, more specifically, the Luye River, the traffic decreased significantly and the road became surrounded by trees and bushes - it was truly beautiful. At this point it also started to rain a bit but it was okay as the rain wasn't that heavy. It would prove to rain on and off the whole afternoon but the weather was perfect for riding.

Beautiful Road 193
On the way to the Luye River

The Luye River from above is stunning and the dry river bed (which I assumed filled up when the typhoon arrived) was equally amazing. I felt the descent along Road 9 to the Luye River was the real start of the rift valley as after crossing the Luye river the road remained fairly flat for most of the way. There were some other ups and downs but nothing significant and the rift valley really opens up after this point. However, as you can see from the pictures below, the Luye river itself is pretty impressive.

The Mighty Luye River
The Luye River

The Mighty Luye River
The Mighty Luye River Bed

After crossing the Luye river, I blasted through the town of Luye and headed North along road. While I was enjoying the view of the Luye river, two round-Taiwan cyclists passed me. I managed to catch up to them and talk to them and they told me they were doing 50km a day and really just going slow and enjoying themselves. Sounded like a perfect plan to me. Anyway, along the road I saw the sign that advertized the Hot Air Balloon rides in Taidong. We tried to get on the balloons earlier on the weekend but we arrived at 11:00am and they only operate the balloons at 6:00am and 3:00pm. Added to that it costs around NTD500 per person for a 7~10 minute ride. There are other activities to do at the same location but we were hoping to jump on the balloons. Ah well, maybe next time.

Hot Air Balloons in Taidong
Hot Air Balloons in Taidong

At this point the rift valley surrounded by mountains really started to open up in a spectacular way. The rice paddies in the valley, the mountains, the dying late afternoon light, all made for a magical ride. I just took my time cruising down the road and enjoying the views, the breeze and the immense beauty of Taiwan's countryside.

Mountains on the Edges
Rift Valley Mountains

Beautiful East Rift Valley
Dying Light in the Rift Valley

To be honest I was concerned about the receding light as I don't really like to ride in the dark but thought as long as I could see I would continue to ride. I was trying to make it to Fuli (富里) but thought I would stop as soon as it got too dark to see anymore. What is the point of riding if you cannot enjoy the view? At the same time, when I ride I am very flexible so would randomly stop to rest and enjoy the view. There are many places to stop along Road 9 in the East Rift Valley and enjoy the view, and it is worth stopping as the views are spectacular. Here is a picture of an advertised rest stop 3km ahead in Guan Shan (關山鎮)

Water Break in the Valley
Rest Point Near Guan Shan (關山鎮)

Some of the above mentioned views of the East Rift Valley (花東縱谷) are of the rice paddies surrounded by mountains in the dying light. Just stunning colors and stunning sky. I will never forget my moments along this road. The views were all spectacular.

Dramatic Sky in the Rift Valley
Rice Paddies and a Big sky

Rice Paddy in the Evening Light
Beautiful Rice Paddies

Stunning Rice Paddies in the Rift Valley
Tranquility in the East Rift Valley (花東縱谷)

One of the amazing sites in the East Rift Valley (花東縱谷) is the sky, especially at sunset. The way the clouds move in and the orange sun burns over the mountains (see later) is incredible and the sky alone makes riding the East Rift Valley (花東縱谷) something every cyclist in Taiwan should do. They are just awesome views and sometimes so captivating I just couldn't stop looking at and enjoying the sky. Truly amazing.

Big Sky in the Rift Valley
Big Sky in the the East Rift Valley (花東縱谷)

Overnight in Chih Shang (池上)

As mentioned earlier, I was trying to head to Fuli (富里) and overnight there but after I rode through Chih Shang (池上) I looked behind me and saw the most incredible sunsets over the mountain: just some stunning views. I had to stop, take some pictures and really just enjoy these few precious moments before the sun went down. These moments were precious. The sunset, the mountain, the reflected light in the in rice paddies all conspired to make a picture-perfect view. I stopped on the side of the road, got off my bike, and just watched the light fade behind the mountain. I guess the only think missing was a beer.

Chihshang (池上) in the Sunset, Taidong, Taiwan
Sunset in Chih Shang (池上)

Sunset Over Chihshang (池上)
Sunset above Chih Shang (池上)

Rice Paddies Outside Chihshang (池上)
Chih Shang (池上) Rice Paddies in the Dying Light

Since I spent so much time enjoying the sunset, by the time I got back on the bike and headed for Fuli (富里) it was dark. I decided to turn the bike around and head back to Chih Shang (池上) and find a place to crash there. I stopped at the pokice station and asked them for a cheap hotel. The policeman was really helpful and directed me to a hotel not too far away for NTD600 a night, which wasn't too bad, or so I thought. The bed was comfortable enough, the room was clean enough, the water in the shower was warm but the air-conditioner and the fan made an incredible noise so it was impossible to sleep with such a noise. However, when I turned them off it was too hot and then, when I did manage to fall asleep, some mad driver would come screaming along the road (next to the hotel) in their car waking me up. I think I only slept for 1.5 hours that night. I was really tired when I woke up the next morning.

That said, Chih Shang (池上) wasn't a bad town to stay in at all. I had a nice Haka dinner, had a couple of beers, found an internet cafe, walked around the town and generally enjoyed being in a small country town in Taiwan. Just too bad about the sleep issues. As I discovered it wouldn't affect me too much the next day but still I was worried about it since I wanted to get to Hualien (花蓮) early the next day, and I knew it was a plus-100km ride, I decided to leave really early the next morning: so I was up by 5:30 and left the hotel around 6:00pm and was ready for the long ride to Hualien (花蓮).

Day 2: Chih Shang (池上)to Hualien (花蓮)

As mentioned earlier I left Chih Shang (池上) early in the morning and headed out along Road 9. I would spend sometime along Road 9 but shortly before Wuli I would deviate onto Road 193. Road 193 was a spectacular undulating road and well worth riding, but it looked like it might be a bit longer than Road 9 and a little more bumpier than Road 9 so it delayed my arrival in Hualien (花蓮).

Shortly after leaving Chih Shang (池上) you start to see some of the great views of the rift valley again. The sky was not so dramatic as it was cloudy and overcast because of the typhoon that was slowly moving in, but still, the view was tremendous.

Beautiful View of the Rift Valley
Looking Back over the Rift Valley (花東縱谷)

I eventually did arrive in Fuli (富里) where I found a nice little breakfast shop and stopped for a bite to eat. I still had quite a lot of riding to do that day so didn't want to delay too much. After a quick bite I headed out onto Road 9 and just continued to pedal and enjoy the great views of the mountains, rivers and rice paddies.

Sign Post on the Road
On Road 9 to Hualien (花蓮)

Just before I arrived in Wuli I saw the turn off for Road 193 and decided to take it (this road was recommended to me by Michael Turton over at The View from Taiwan. Michael called it "God's own Road").

The first thing I noticed on Road 193 was that it showed I was at the 110km mile marker, which I took to mean 110km to Hualien (花蓮). Road 9 showed Hualien (花蓮) to be only 90km away so I thought I still had quite a lot of riding left to do. As it turned out, to get to Hualien (花蓮) you turn off Road 193 at the 22km marker so the distance is approximately the same. The difference in the roads seem to be firstly elevation: Road 193 has many ups and downs, whereas Road 9 seems to be fairly flat and follows the lower contours of the river basin. The second difference is that sometimes the overall view of the East Rift Valley (花東縱谷) is blocked as you are in between trees and sometimes mountains, but all this is very beautiful. The BIGGEST advantage of Road 193 is that there are so few cars that it seems like it is indeed the forgotten road. I would recommend this route as it was wonderful, but I still do need to ride the full length of Road 9 again just to compare.

Shortly after turning off Road 9 onto Road 193 there is a small pond with a small pavilion in the middle. It was a very quaint Taiwanese country scene and added to the sense that I was in the midst of something special. At this point I was a little tired so stopped for a quick water break and also to take a picture.

In the Pond
Pavilion in the Lake

Once I got riding on Road 193 I could look left and see some tremendous views of the mountains on the other side of the rift valley. The views were certainly impressive and something I really enjoyed. I cannot express how beautiful this road really was and, since I am not such a great photographer, neither can these pictures do justice to the scenery on offer.

Mountain Rift Valley
Mountains in the East Rift Valley (花東縱谷)

Since Road 193 is not a main road but rather a provincial road, the road itself is narrower than Road 9 and in some parts is only wide enough for one vehicle at a time. However, since as I said earlier, this road seems to be a forgotten road, there are hardly any cars or other vehicles to contend with. There are, however, many cyclists. Most of the cyclists I encountered in the morning were riding from Hualien in the direction of Taitung, but there were no cars and this made the road very very safe in my opinion.

Looking Back along the Narrow Road 193

As in most parts of Taiwan, roads in the countryside lead you next to beautiful, green rice paddies or paddies with water in them being prepared for the next crop. This is also true of Road 193. The difference being that many of these paddies are next to the mountain and the mountains, with the paddies in front of them, add to the natural beauty of the area.

Paddies in the Mountains (1)

Paddies in the Mountains (2)

Paddies in the Mountains (3)

I continued to drift along Road 193 towards Ruisui on the way to Hualien (花蓮). Shortly before arriving in Ruisui I crossed the Xiuguluan River that is famous for white water rafting. People usually stay in Hualien (花蓮) and are shuttled to Ruisui for the rafting trip. We have done it a couple of times and can honestly say it is a lot of fun. However, since the typhoon was blowing in, it seemed a lot of the rafts along the river bank were being pulled in off the river and taken to some place safe where they couldn't be washed away or damaged.

Outside Ruesuei
River Rafting on the Xiuguluan River, Ruisui

River Near Ruisuei
Xiuguluan River, Ruisu

I crossed the Xiuguluan River, blasted through Ruisui and continued on my way to Hualien (花蓮). On this stretch of the road I met with disaster! I was about 50km outside of Hualien and I pushed down on my right pedal and in a moment I got this incredible pain in my knee with sharp, shooting pains down my shin and into my foot. After this point, every time I pushed down on the pedal the pain would become more intense. I was worried as I was still far from Hualien but didn't really want to give up on the ride. However, I also noticed, after Ruisui, the road started to undulate significantly more than before with many more uphills to come. I decided to grit my teeth, take the pain, and continue to cycle to Hualien (花蓮). I have a friend in Hualien (花蓮) and thought if I got closer then she could pick me up in her car, but I really didn't want to do that. Anyway, I soldiered on but the rests become increasingly frequent and my riding speed decreased significantly (except on the downhills). When I did eventually arrive in Hualien (花蓮) I was barely able to walk or bend my knee. I saw a doctor when I got back to Taipei but he said there was nothing wrong, so go figure.

I continued to head North along Road 193 in spite of the pain and it was at this point that I noticed most of the little towns I passed through had Churches in them. These Churches were fairly prominent and in some places even more prominent than the Buddhist temples. I am not sure what denominations these Churches were but some of them were located in some beautiful locations such as the one below.

Church in the Fields
Church in the Fields

The small country towns I passed through were really quaint and beautiful. In one of these small towns I stopped at a shop along the side of the road. Four elderly women were sitting around a table at the front of the shop having a good conversation. I asked them if they sold drinks and since they did I stopped to get something and take a rest. They offered me a chair to sit down on and as I sat in the chair, since the chair was small, it broke under my weight. It was so embarrassing! However this gave the four older woman something to laugh about, and laugh they did. I took it in my stride and laughed too (what else could I do). I did feel bad I broke the chair though. Two of the ladies helped me up and found me a stronger chair to sit in. Of course this opened them up to conversation and they were funny ladies. The one lady kept on asking me if I wanted a woman for myself and then offered me her daughter, who turned out to be one of the other older ladies sitting at their table. It was really a funny sort of conversation. These people to me epitomize the spirit of Taiwan: their friendliness, their happiness and joy, and their willingness to laugh and have fun. Truly wonderful people.

As I said, the towns were very quaint and many of the homeowners in these towns had taken the time to make beautiful gardens outside their homes. It was such a pleasure riding through these towns.

Quaint Village on Road 193
Quaint East Rift Valley (花東縱谷) Village

Every time I passed through one of these villages, when I got to the other side, the mountain and rice paddy views, would once again open up to you. The further you rode the more you realize that these tremendous views in the East Rift Valley (花東縱谷) remain with you for most of your ride and it is worth the effort. Since the typhoon was getting closer to Hualien (花蓮) some big clouds could be seen in the sky over the mountains and reflected in the water filled rice paddies. It added drama to an already magnificent scene. And yes, these clouds did bring rain, but the rain was bearable.

Rice Paddies and Mountains

Beautiful Mountain View

View of Hualien's Mountains from Road 193
Natural Drama in the East Rift Valley (花東縱谷)

As I got closer to Hualien (花蓮) I saw this interesting totem pole next to a driveway that I can only assume is connected in some way to the local aboriginal culture. The inscription on the pole read Rakayana and I have no idea what that means (and cannot find anything on the internet). Still it was a good place as any to stop for a water break and to take a picture.

Rakayana Totem Pole on Road 193
Totem Pole

It should be noted that no matter how far I went along the road, it was always narrow and empty and for long stretches it was only me on the road. Road 193 was wonderful and I had no regrets having ridden it. I loved the narrowness of the road (since there were no vehicles on it) and it actually made me feel in some parts that it was a dedicated cycling path (which of course it isn't). The road stayed narrow for most of the time and in some parts continued to throw uphills and downhills. The road though was always surrounded by vegetation and was truly beautiful.

Narrow Road 193 Surrounded by Vegetation

Narrow Road 193

I finally started to see Hualien come into view in the distance. There were a lot of clouds hanging over the city. I knew that their would be rain in the town but was looking forward to getting to hotel, having a hot shower, and having something to eat. It was still only around 1:30pm in the afternoon so I still had plenty of time to enjoy the afternoon in Hualien. The views of the city from Road 193 were awesome I was looking at it from the top of the river bed.

The View Towards Hualien

Hualien from Road 193
Bridge into Hualien

After riding about 110km in the day and about 90km along Road 193, I finally reached the end of the East Rift Valley (花東縱谷) scenic area. There was a sign to mark the end of the ride. I was a happy as I could be to have reached the end but was looking forward to getting into Hualien and most of all resting my leg.

The End of the Rift Valley
End of the East Rift Valley (花東縱谷) scenic area

I continued to head along Road 193 until I hit the intersection with Road 11. I turned left on Road 11 and headed into Hualien. At this point it started to rain very heavily. I just rode on through the city until I found a hotel to check into and take a shower. By now I was wet, sore and satisfied. It had been a great ride!

Final Thoughts

If you love cycling and love Taiwan then riding the East Rift Valley (花東縱谷) is a must for you. As you can see the views are spectacular all the way. It is not a strenuous trip and in all only around 180km. I think it can be done in a day (especially if you lighten the load and not carry too much luggage). The road itself is mostly easy with a few undulations here and there. Although on the second day I climbed about 700m in all, the ascents were comprised of a lot of small hills, nothing major.

As for me, this was to be the end of the road on this trip. I had planned to ride back to Taipei from Hualien through Taroko Gorge, over the mountains and back down into Taipei. The Typhoon and the wrecked knee prevented me from doing that. Still, I chilled out in Hualien for two days and had a great time, in spite of the terrible weather. I had an awesome time and hope to ride this route again sometime soon.


  1. Paul, thanks for another wonderful photo-essay on one of your cycling expeditions. the photos were fantastic (despite what you think!). i've driven the Rift Valley before and after that plus reading your account, it sounds like something i could do on the trike. i'm going to give that some serious consideration. thanks Paul.

    1. MJ as always thanks for reading and commenting - much appreciated and thanks for the kind words on the pictures. I don't know much about riding a trike but it is something easily done I think. There are some hilly parts and some bigger downhills (especially going down into the Luye River) but apart from that it is relatively flat. Good luck if you decide to do it and I would love to read & hear about your experiences.

  2. Thanks for sharing. I have biked along the east coast four times now but never on the 193. This trip will likely be my next one in Taiwan. Take a bus to Taidong, ride to Hualien, then up and over the mountains back to Taichung. I have been down the east side of those mountains twice. Very beautiful. Looking forward to going up them and down the steep side for a change. Ha ha! Thanks agains.

    1. Sure Dave - you are welcome and glad you enjoyed. That was the second time I did the East Coast. The first time I went up Road 11 next to the sea. On this trip I actually wanted to ride up Taroko and then along the spine of the mountains to Taipei but the Typhoon put paid to those plans. Anyway, enjoy your future rides and ride safe always. Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment on this post.

  3. Hope your legs better now. Also glad you didn't pick up a second wife, your first one is great. I might have this area in my sites (at least some of it) on my next big ride.

    1. Peter legs are doing fine - now it is the face, wrist, hand, knees and toes that are scratched and bruised - tasted the tarmac the other day lol. Yes - it is a beautiful part of Taiwan - you should definitely include it in your plans but remember to ride with head up and not head down - you want to be able to enjoy the scenery.


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